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Highlanders following Crusaders' footsteps

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Highlanders assistant coach Scott McLeod said the consequences of the anomaly in the draw meant they were invariably having to cope with the backlash from the Crusaders' opponents.

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"They're beating everyone by 50 points so we're getting an aggrieved, angry opposition after that," he said.

"But what they are showing us is good ways to attack and apply pressure and a lot of what the Crusaders did against the Bulls is the way we want to play the game as well."

That game plan and its execution took a hit against the Cheetahs when the Highlanders were forced to pull off one of the greater escapes in the tournament's history to score three tries in the last five minutes to win.

McLeod said the Highlanders should never have put themselves where they were with 15 minutes to play.

"We've had a look at that. We've reviewed that really hard in terms of our defence anyway."

But while they had taken pride from the way they had fought back, because it epitomised a lot of what the Highlanders region was about, there was frustration they had got into that position.

McLeod said he was 'gutted' the side missed 31 tackles and had their lowest tackling percentage of the season while failing to apply any pressure on the Cheetahs which was unusual for the Highlanders.

"We sat and we waited and we allowed them to dictate time and space and they put us under pressure and we went against some of our policies and they scored six tries and we should not have put ourselves in that place."



It had been hard to pinpoint a reason for the lapses; they had prepared well, their travel from New Zealand had gone very well and while there was limited training time the players had not turned up with the right attitude.

There had been a harsh review and McLeod said there already appeared to be a response from the players as they looked to produce a more spirited performance against the Bulls.

"The Cheetahs were a different beast in terms of what we are coming up against this weekend but we're still trying to find our game and trying to perfect that, and trying to get good at that. Every opposition we play we try and find opportunities for that and to grow that and we think the Bulls have shown enough space, or opportunities to develop that."

The Highlanders hadn't shown up with the necessary physicality and they could not show up with a similar mindset against the Bulls.

"They are more dominant, and they will be more testing in terms of the physicality so we have to get that right," he said.

The Bulls had developed their game, they were doing a lot more off-loading, were attacking a lot more and kicking less and were good at turning over ball, something they had managed against the Crusaders in spite of the loss they suffered.